San Jose mayor meets with Biden to talk gun violence
At a May 26 news conference about the VTA mass shooting, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that the city will do everything possible to prevent future tragedies. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Just weeks after the San Jose City Council approved sweeping gun control reforms on two separate occasions, Mayor Sam Liccardo and President Joe Biden met Monday in Washington, D.C.  to discuss a national strategy to reduce gun violence.

“I had the honor of participating in a robust discussion today with President Biden and a half-dozen civic leaders from across the country about actions we’re taking against violent crime and gun violence,” Liccardo said in a statement to San José Spotlight.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams—the frontrunner for the next mayor of New York City—and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined Liccardo and Biden. Law enforcement officials from Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; Wilmington, Delaware and Newark, New Jersey also attended.

Liccardo said Biden demonstrated a “genuine commitment” to partnering with cities to stem the tide of gun violence and scale emerging solutions.

“I shared with the president how San Jose is using federal and local dollars to deploy walking patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, expand mental health response to residents in crisis and employ young adults in gang-impacted neighborhoods in jobs that support our city’s recovery,” Liccardo said. “We also discussed our recent legislation to halt the flow of illegal guns through straw purchasing, and to reduce the financial burdens of victims and taxpayers for gun violence and its response.”

Liccardo introduced a series of gun control measures in the wake of the May 26 VTA mass shooting where a disgruntled worker shot nine of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. Those measures include mandating gun shops to audio and video record all sales to prevent “straw purchases” and asking all gun owners in the city to carry insurance and pay into a public fund to help cover medical costs incurred by gun violence.

According to a memo from Liccardo that cited preliminary numbers from the Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation, between 2013 and 2019, San Jose residents paid a combined $441.9 million in gun violence-related costs.

“We know there are some things that work, and the first of those that works is stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes,” Biden told the media Monday. “It includes cracking down and holding rogue gun dealers accountable for violating federal law.”

Biden promised last month to create five new “strike forces” and send them into regions across the nation such as the Bay Area, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. to help local police stop the flow of illegal firearms.

Liccardo has worked on San Jose’s local insurance measures since 2019 following a mass shooting in Gilroy that killed three people. The pandemic paused his plans, but efforts resumed after the VTA shooting.

City officials say San Jose is the first city in the nation to mandate insurance for gun owners. The proposal is set to come back in the fall after the city attorney’s office drafts an ordinance that it believes is legally defensible.

Various gun rights groups promise to sue the city should it approve the insurance ordinance, claiming it violates their Second Amendment rights, makes it more difficult for small business gun shops to operate in the city and puts a financial burden on low-income gun owners.

“San Jose is requiring gun owners who have broken no laws to pay a punitive tax to ‘offset costs’ incurred by criminals who injure or kill people with guns. This punishes the innocent for the guilt of others,” read a statement given to San José Spotlight by Erin Palette, spokesperson for Pink Pistols, an LGBTQ gun rights organization. “There is no justification for forcing the innocent to subsidize the actions of criminals.”

Other gun rights groups, such as the Firearms Policy Coalition, call Liccardo’s proposals “heinous.”

“Mayor Liccardo is proposing an utterly dystopian program designed to turn neighbor against neighbor in support of his tyrannical and oppressive policies,” Taylor Svehlak, director of public affairs for the coalition, previously told San José Spotlight. “One wonders what other classes of people he would like to use ‘community snitches’ to target for heavy-handed police actions.”

Liccardo and his council colleagues promise to look into fee waivers for lower-income gun owners and possible exceptions for reserve and retired law enforcement.

Liccardo’s meeting with Biden is part of a national effort to reduce gun deaths in a recent spike in violence in major cities such as Chicago. The president promised to go after illegal gun dealers.

“These merchants of death are breaking the law for profit. They’re selling guns that are killing innocent people,” Biden said at the White House last month. “It’s wrong. It’s unacceptable… We’re going to crack down on those gun dealers and the violent criminals they knowingly arm.”

Biden also promised he would look into using federal dollars to send funding to mayors across the country to purchase crime-fighting technologies, such as gunshot detection systems.

Republicans criticize the president and claim that some cities with the strictest gun laws, such as Memphis and Chicago, also have high crime rates. Studies from the FBI show incidents of homicide have decreased nationally by almost half since the 1980s, but saw an uptick in cities from 2019 to 2020. Additionally, crime rates rise in the summer.

“I look forward to rolling up our sleeves with our federal partners—we have much work to do, and lives hang in the balance,” Liccardo said.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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